Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

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Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

Craig Berube remembers his first NHL game in March of 1987 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had two fights plus 16 minutes in penalties during a 3-1 Flyers win.
 
“I had my gloves off three times,” Berube recalled. “Oh yeah, I was nervous. But my position back then, that was my job as a player. Your first game you are nervous, for sure.”
 
Tonight at Madison Square Garden, Berube will make his NHL playoff coaching debut against the New York Rangers.
 
He already had 79 regular-season games to get adjusted. He’s not nervous.
 
“There is obviously a lot at stake,” he said. “I’m excited. I am. I am looking forward to it. They (the Flyers) know I am excited. Over the last few days, our team is excited.”
 
Sheer enthusiasm never won a playoff game, let alone a Stanley Cup. Yet it’s easy to see that Berube’s personality has not changed one iota this season.
 
Even when the club was 1-7. Even when it reached .500 in mid-December. Even when it clinched a playoff spot.
 
Look ahead, stay positive, focus on the here and present.
 
Berube feels a coach’s personality should never change with his team, especially going from the regular season to the playoffs.
 
Even if faced with a legitimate crisis, such as Wednesday’s announcement that starting goalie Steve Mason will miss Game 1 with a head injury (see story).
 
“I don’t think our team feels like it is a blow at all,” he said. “I totally disagree. Things happen. Good team’s find a way to get it done. They know.”
 
Berube is a no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip coach, and his players know and respect that. They say they’ve seen no change in him leading up to this point.
 
Well, maybe one small thing.
 
“He’s been paying a little more close attention to detail this week,” Matt Read observed. “He wants everything perfect. No mistakes in practice, or it’s going to carry over into games.”
 
Berube says it’s important for a coach not to change his ways, his style or his demeanor just because there is the added pressure of going from the regular season to the playoffs.
 
“I don’t think I will change,” he said. “I want my team to play under control with disciplined play. I will coach the same way.”
 
Is it important for them to see there is no change here?
 
“Yeah,” he said.
 
The Flyers were already going into this series as an underdog because of Henrik Lundqvist’s absolute dominance over them since 2011.
 
With the loss of Mason, they now become a heavy underdog -- even though the fact remains that what this series should really be about is whether or not the Flyers can solve Lundqvist.
 
Emery is capable of beating the Rangers. He gets up for challenges and he’s proven that. He has outstanding lifetime numbers against the Rangers, including a glittering 1.87 goals-against average.

What Berube has to do here is refocus his team not on losing Mason, but solving the puzzle of Lundqvist while finding the confidence within his group to make it believe it can win at MSG, where they Flyers have lost eight straight.
 
That’s where positive spin and Berube’s down-to-earth approach come together. When he talked to his club this week about the Rangers, he gave them concrete reasons why they didn’t win in New York this season.
 
“The Rangers are a very good skating team,” he told them. “They get on you quick and forecheck hard and they are an aggressive team. Their defense is aggressive. In both games [there], a period here or there, a period and a half, we get off page.
 
“A little frustration sets in, turning pucks over and it costs us. We need to play a 60-minute game up there. Stay focused. You can’t get frustrated. They are a good skating hockey team. We have to get pucks deep, put pucks on Lundqvist and get traffic.”
 
Interesting that Lundqvist said he saw something on film about the Flyers that is very different from other clubs and it affects how a goalie sees their attack or tracks pucks.
 
“You just have to be aware of it, that they like that extra pass,” the big Swede said. “They have a lot of guys, especially [Claude] Giroux obviously, who can set guys up for an open net. They can shoot, but they can look for the extra pass.
 
“They can still shoot it. You just have to be ready for anything. You can't just expect a shot every time. That's what makes them a little different from other teams, a little like Pittsburgh.”
 
The key focal points, both ways, are fairly clear cut.
 
Can the Flyers score on Lundqvist? If not, it won’t matter if God is in goal for the Flyers. Can they neutralize Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and grind him down into a lesser factor in the series?
 
Can Giroux’s line with Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek be the hot line it was earlier this winter? Does having seven 20-goal scorers -- most in the NHL -- give them a tangible edge because every line has a weapon?
 
Will their lethal power play make a critical difference, or will the Rangers' third-ranked penalty kill simply erase it?
 
Simple questions with no simple answers, Berube would tell you.
 
“The biggest thing is you have to take one shift at a time in the playoffs, focus and keep pounding away, no matter what,” Berube said. “Playoffs are a grind. You have to be prepared for a grind.
 
“That is what I told my team. Be prepared for a grind out there. Need to check and skate and work, do all the little things. If you don’t do them, you won’t be successful.”
 
Sounds like a guy who’s actually coached before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, doesn’t it?

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

BOX SCORE

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Zach Parise scored for the Minnesota Wild just 2:07 into Thursday's game, the Flyers were in another difficult position on the road.

This time, they responded with the type of game they've needed on the road all season.

The Flyers scored three unanswered goals by Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Jakub Voracek to beat Minnesota, 3-1, and snap a four-game losing streak on the road (see Instant Replay).

"They're a tough team to handle in their transition," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said of Parise's goal. "It's quick and it's fast. The players on the bench were outstanding, talking, real calm. Just go out and push it the other way the next shift and I thought we were able to do that."

The Flyers responded with one of their best efforts on the road in nearly two months and pulled within six points of Boston for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see standings). The Bruins lost, 6-3, at home to Tampa Bay.

Steve Mason made 24 saves in goal for his 100th win with the Flyers as the team was rarely challenged thanks to an all-around performance that has been missing on the road. The Flyers entered the night tied for the second-fewest road wins in the conference this season.

"Certain things on the road, you've got to be a little more specific with your game and detailed, and I think we did a better job of that tonight," said Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz, who returned to the arena where he played 10 seasons with Minnesota. "Everybody throughout the lineup did that and that's why we got a big win."

The beginning looked all too familiar, though.

An innocent looking dump-in slid to Mason, who tried to cover the puck. The puck went off his stick and Parise quickly poked it past Mason. The Wild had four quality chances early before the Flyers took control.

"They came hard early on in the game and to be able to match that speed; that was a completely different pace of game compared to what we came from in Winnipeg," Mason said. "So, it almost took a second to get your bearings straight to get up to speed."

The Flyers weathered the early flurry by Minnesota, which is safely in playoff position in the West but is facing its own late-season issues. The Flyers killed off both Wild penalties, allowing just two shots on the penalty kill.

Couturier's 12th goal of the season was critical in tying the game with 2:01 left in the first (see feature highlight).

"Coming into the room after the period, I think it's important when you get a big goal like that," captain Claude Giroux said. "You feel like you have the momentum a little bit, so it definitely helped us a lot."

Read provided the lead in the second and the Flyers, who are now 15-2-2 when leading after two periods, pressured in the third. They outshot the Wild, 9-4, in the final period.

"We didn't sit back," Hakstol said. "I thought we were confident with the puck and made some plays and spent a good amount of time in the offensive zone. We played with real confidence in our game."

Mason had been critical after the Flyers lost in Winnipeg on Tuesday, saying the team needed to be more desperate. The Flyers responded Thursday in the difficult position of being on the road and allowing the first goal.

"We knew we had to be better," Schultz said of Mason's comments. "I think on the road, you've got to be at least a .500 team and take care of business at home, and we haven't done that this year. So, obviously, we've got to get better and I think we did respond tonight. Now we have to build on it."

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Wild 1

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Wild 1

BOX SCORE

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A much-needed win for the Flyers came in an unlikely spot: on the road against one of the Western Conference's top teams.

Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Jakub Voracek scored for the Flyers, and Steve Mason made 24 saves in a 3-1 win over the Wild on Thursday. It snapped a four-game winless streak on the road and kept the Flyers' playoff hopes alive.

Mason allowed an early goal to Zach Parise but recovered, and Couturier tied the game in the first. The Flyers responded as a whole and Read scored for the second time in an as many games, while Voracek had his first goal in 11 games with his 18th of the season.

Goalie report
Playing for the 11th time in 12 games, Mason was a little shaky at the start after not covering the puck twice and then coming far out of the cage, leading to a wraparound opportunity for Minnesota. But after Parise's goal -- one of the times Mason thought he had the puck covered -- the netminder was very steady. He didn't get out of position and allowed less than two goals for the fourth time in 12 games.

The victory marked Mason's 100th in a Flyers uniform. He is third in franchise history behind Ron Hextall (240) and Bernie Parent (232).

Faceoffs
The Flyers were dominant in the faceoff circle on Thursday, winning 61 percent of the draws.

Power play
The Flyers didn't take advantage of their one opportunity in the game as defenseman Ivan Provorov was called for a hooking penalty halfway through their lone power play. The Flyers are now 3 for 40 on the power play over the past 12 games.
 
Penalty kill
The penalty kill had one of its better performances in recent games. The Flyers killed off both penalties and allowed just two Minnesota shots in the three minutes of penalty time. Entering the game, the Flyers had allowed 10 goals in 28 occasions on the penalty kill in the previous nine games.

A small move
With the win, the Flyers were able to pull closer to the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston lost, 6-3, at home to Tampa Bay, allowing the Flyers to close within six points with nine games left. The Bruins have only eight games remaining. Two of the teams between Boston and the Flyers -- the Lightning and Hurricanes -- did win Thursday, while the Islanders were idle (see wild-card standings).

Lines change
Looking for a spark, three of the four lines were changed for Thursday's game. Claude Giroux centered Read and Voracek. Valtteri Filppula was between Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare teamed with Travis Konecny and Chris VandeVelde. Coach Dave Hakstol kept the line of Brayden Schenn, Couturier and Dale Weise together.

Blue line return
Defenseman Brandon Manning made his return after missing five games with a shoulder injury.
 
Scratches
Forwards Nick Cousins (upper body) and Roman Lyubimov (healthy), and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (healthy).
 
Up next
The third game of the four-game road trip is Saturday at Columbus. The Flyers are 0-1-1 against the Blue Jackets this season, including a 5-3 loss at home on March 13.